Werner Herzog plays The Zec in the film "Jack Reacher." | Paramount Pictures, Karen Ballard
‘JACK REACHER’ ★★
Stars: Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Richard Jenkins, Rosamund Pike and
Rating: PG-13 for violence, language and drug
Length: 2 hr., 10 min.
Updated: January 22, 2013 6:20AM
We go to the movies to escape real life, to envelope ourselves in the fantasy worlds of romance and comedy and superhero adventures — and yes, violent action movies.
A film like “Jack Reacher,” with Tom Cruise riding into town and demonstrating amazing prowess behind a steering wheel and exhibiting his steely wits and fists, and oh, yeah, knives and guns, is made to entertain. No message, no attempt to educate, no mission other than to give you your money’s worth. It’s set in the real world, but taking place in a parallel, make-believe universe.
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
As I was watching the film last Friday morning, with phone turned off and laptop put away, the world was receiving the first bulletins about the horrific shootings in Connecticut.
By the time I emerged from the screening room, they were all gone. The innocent children, the heroic adults, the shooter’s mother, the shooter himself.
Studios have reacted to the Sandy Hook tragedy by postponing or canceling the premieres of several major holiday releases — and in the case of “Jack Reacher,” altering some of the marketing materials as well. But short of pulling this movie from release, there’s nothing that can be done about the content of the film itself.
And so we proceed with this spoiler alert:
“Jack Reacher” begins with an extended, well-crafted, dialogue-free, extremely intense sequence in which a sniper sets up in a parking garage near the Pittsburgh Pirates’ PNC Park, takes careful aim and begins gunning down victims.
If you remove this scene from the movie, you don’t have a movie. It sets the wheels in motion for the rest of the story — an intermittently engaging but convoluted and often ludicrous thriller.
Much has been made of the physical differences between dark-haired fireplug Tom Cruise and the blond, 6-foot-5 Jack Reacher in Lee Child’s books. Of greater concern is Cruise’s actual performance. As we saw in last year’s “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” the 50ish Cruise is still capable of spearheading a great action movie, but here he’s grinning and mugging and preening his way through a role that calls for much darker shades. This is one of those vanity performances in which nearly every woman who crosses paths with Reacher practically swoons in his presence, as if they’re meeting Tom Cruise and not an actual character.
The assassin leaves behind a trail of evidence at the crime scene, making it easy for the Pittsburgh police to pin the murders to a former Army sniper.
Richard Jenkins, a wonderful actor, is the DA who thinks he has a slam-dunk case. Rosamund Pike, not a wonderful actor, is his daughter, who’s defending the alleged sniper. As for the sniper, before he’s pummeled into a coma, he has one request:
“GET JACK REACHER.”
As we soon learn, Reacher’s a former military cop turned off-the-grid drifter with only one shirt, no visible means of income and some serious fighting, driving and shooting skills. As he keeps reminding everyone, he’s no hero. Ah, but he’s played by Tom Cruise, so maybe he is a hero, after all!
Werner Herzog provides some welcome camp relief as an insane villain who once chewed his own fingers off. (Don’t ask.) But Cruise’s old buddy, the great Robert Duvall, is saddled with playing a gun range owner who’s a cartoonishly broad character, doing ridiculous things for no plausible reason.
“Jack Reacher” is a well-directed piece of pulp crapola. The action sequences are well choreographed, the visuals are arresting. But the big reveal is just ridiculous, the dialogue is often unintentionally funny, and Cruise’s performance is mostly wrong. Even when Reacher’s beating up the bad guys, talking about drinking their blood from his boot or telling them he doesn’t have a moral compass, he’s still got that clean-cut smile and that charming manner. We don’t see any real darkness in this guy.
There we have it. If this film came out any other time, I’d warn you away simply because it’s a mediocre thriller. Through no fault of anyone connected to this movie, the other reason you might want to stay away is to avoid the big-screen sight of a woman cradling a child in her arms and trying to find cover as a sniper has them firmly in his crosshairs.